A Noble Masquerade
Regency farces tend not to be my cuppa since I prefer a more serious look at the era. But I found this a winsome tale, with its casual attitude towards the rules and lighthearted look at life and love quite enjoyable. It won’t make my keeper shelf but it was a fine way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Lady Miranda Hawthorne has been receiving lessons on how to act the proper lady for as long as she’s been alive. As sister to a duke the standards set for her are high. The problem is she isn’t naturally a model of perfect deportment and manners. Her personality lends itself more towards the daring and carefree. She maintains the façade she must have but the struggle gets harder every year. The situation is not helped by the fact that she is now entering her fourth Season and in the eyes of society and her mother, approaching spinsterhood. Miranda’s boisterous spirits and sincere heart will let her contemplate nothing but a love match, but despite her many charms so far the only men offering for her are more interested in her brother’s wealth and connections than her person.
Because she has no confidante in her family – none of them really “get” her – she pours her innermost feelings out in (never to be mailed) letters to her brother’s old school friend, Ryland Montgomery, the Duke of Marshington. Truth be told, Miranda has always envied her brother his friendship with Marsh, who had heroically saved him from bullies on more than one occasion. She has never met him, but hearing about him in the missives her brother sent her she had imagined him as her own champion – someone who always came to her aid and who understood her own need for adventure. She uses special blue paper so if she accidentally leaves one of the epistles lying about the servants know to never mail them. Typically, the correspondence goes into a box where they are safely stored. Miranda feels as though there are times the letters are the only thing keeping her sane.
It is this habit of letter writing rather than journaling like a proper young miss which plunges Miranda into her greatest adventure. Unbeknownst to her, her childhood hero and imaginary confidant is actually quite near.
Ryland “Marsh” Montgomery has been working as an agent for the crown for the past decade. His final assignment finds him working at Hawthorne house as Marlow, the valet of his good friend, Griffith. Hawthorne House, Griffith’s ducal estate, has been infiltrated by spies. It is Marlow’s job to find those men and bring them to justice but he is finding this latest task quite a challenge. Not only does Griffith continually slip up and treat him as a friend rather than a servant but Marsh finds himself distracted by the lovely Lady Miranda. When he stumbles across a letter she has written to him, he pretends to mail it. Then several days later he sends her an answer by post. Miranda, initially crushed by the sending of the note is made ecstatic by the response. But does she truly love him or is she simply infatuated with his title and money? In other words, can he turn Marlow the valet into a rival for the Duke of Marshington and have her fall for them both?
Of course this whole plot is more than a little silly. Dukes don’t work as valets and in this case, there was no need for it. It is true that Marsh was convinced that the spy was among the servants but as a guest in the home he would have had a great deal of leeway to look around, especially since Griffith, the owner of the home, is on his side. Given that the two friends were such close schoolmates, it would have been perfectly natural for Marsh to pay a long visit to his old buddy, so it’s not like that would have looked as suspicious as a valet who struggled to do his job. However, the book itself labels this a farce, which made it easier for me to swallow. It works a lot better when writer, character and reader all know they are sharing a bit of a joke.
Miranda is the perfect heroine for this sort of slapstick, devil-may-care humor. She is exactly the kind of young woman who would rescue her brother’s valet and cavort across the countryside with him in what many would deem an improper manner. The fact that she struggled to be a perfect lady was established early in the tale and that helped a great deal in believing later that she would behave in ways outside the norm. It also made the idea of her deep desire for a love match a tad bit more acceptable. I think I would have struggled to believe it otherwise since a lady of her stature would have been bred from the cradle to make the right sort of alliance.
The whole plot line with Marsh was a suspension of disbelief but it was done with great good humor and an absolute awareness of how the rules were being bent. I found myself sitting back and enjoying the ride, especially when the real villain came on the scene. It was just such a classic romance novel twist that I couldn’t help but smile.
This is an inspirational so there was talk of God and faith sprinkled throughout the tale. I will admit that I found the religious aspects of the story a bit confusing here. It seemed a very 20th century evangelical type of religion in a time and place where that wasn’t practiced. It worked (barely) due to the nature of the book but I did find myself wondering what the source of everyone’s belief was. Did they have an especially good minister at the church? How did they feel about their tremendous material wealth compared to Jesus’ stance on poverty and helping the poor? It seemed anachronistic to me but I think most readers will glide right past that.
My only real quibble with the book is that it is so pleasant and light and fluffy that it doesn’t have a whole lot of substance. That’s not a fault really but it does mean the book is more like a desert than a main course. Delicious certainly but you’ll be hungry for something a bit more filling soon.
That said, everyone deserves an afternoon off to enjoy a diversion and this certainly fits the bill. If you enjoy the Regency era and think farces with spies, dastardly villains and slightly unconventional heroines are your thing then I can definitely recommend it.